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By Staff | Jan 5, 2018

The 2018 year is here now. There are still no flying cars in the air, but the advance in the arenas of personal travel, computers, navigational equipment in ag and the ability to gather information while raising crops is astounding. I recognize that my 94 year old grandmother who passed away in 1998 grew up with horses and speaking a language other than English at her home farm in Northern Iowa likely saw more landmark inventions show up than I will. She ended up being able to hop on a huge jet and travel around the world or see a man walk on the moon in her later years. Now we don’t know if today’s advances might be called progress or perhaps the opposite, but it will be interesting to see what new items or products make their way into everyday farm use. Keep track of those things that you might use for the first time this year and like enough to put in your regular tool box.

How is everyone enjoying the bitter cold weather that is now with us? Bowl attendees dress in black and gold enjoyed temps om the low 30s out in New York while those dressed in cardinal and gold in Memphis were dressed for temps in the mid to high 30s. This was about fifteen to twenty degrees colder than normal. Here in the Midwest last week was a bearcat with temps in the teen below zero and single digit daily highs. If a person was dressed for those temps it was possible to work outside, but it seems anything with an engine initially powered by a battery did not want to turn over and start. A heated shop, battery chargers or engine block heaters were a necessity as we try to get those machines operating again.

So what is the cause of this invasion of Arctic air? Is it Global warming, and if so, why it is cold air and not warmer? Well it is the time of year when the earth tilts on its axis and the northern hemisphere has shorter days and less direct sunlight. While our days are short, when we were in Finland a few falls ago the car drivers turned their lights on by 3:30 in the afternoon. A high percentage of the people sat in front of their blue light beds to get some of the correct rays to keep from dropping into a depressed state. At least we don’t have hurricanes here.

Cold temperatures are beneficial for:

If it going to be cold, we may as well count the number of ways where it helps us. First of all freezing temps help to break up shallow compaction in the soil. The hard layers formed by last fall’s machinery traffic in the top six to eight inches can be broken up by the freezing and thawing during the fall and winter. The second thing that can happen is that a number of insects can be killed by multiple the same freezing cycles. That applies mostly to those that are not deep in the soil. Rootworm eggs are affected somewhat by very cold weather if there is a blanket of insulating snow, but I have never seen and documented study where anyone was able to state exact figures. Finding the small eggs in a large quantity of soil would be a difficult task.

January tasks

It’s January and normally the time when most crop farmers have booked much of their seed and chemicals. But this year is different for a number of reasons. The planting season was later than normal and harvest got completed later than normal. The same applied to tillage and putting the harvesting equipment away into the machine sheds. Typically there is a bit of down time when a crop farmer gets a breather, but not this year. Thus this year the entire planning process seems to be running about a month behind normal. The economics of the season is also playing a role in that going in to see the banker to develop a plan to generate a positive cash flow when the cost to product a bushel of corn is about a buck higher than the market price is not easy.

At the Farm News Farm Show Dave Kruse of Comstock Commodities laid out a plan that assumed the same highs and lows of last year. Then by his plan of using puts and calls, having on farm storage, and then executing those actions ended up a corn price of slightly over $4/Bu. Will it work again this year? Only time will tell. Everyone was hoping that the double digit prices for soybeans on the board were going to hold, but it dropped as well.

Soil test results

If you are in the group of farmers who had soil samples pulled on some ground last fall, now would be a good time to have someone study the results, explain what the numbers mean, and come up with an action plan. The more things that were tested for, the more complete their recommendations could be and hopefully the healthier and higher yielding the 2018 crops will be.

Soil health testing

Both Midwest Lab and Ward Labs are running many more Haney analyses than they did in past years. I have been looking a quite a few reports and typically surprised that some are as high as they are, while also seeing some on the opposite end of the spectrum. Typically the person who is interested in getting a field sampled is the person who cares about his/her soils and has been doing things correct in the past. The scale is set up on a 0 to 50 scale and generally what we see is that the fields receiving a score near or above 10 are capable of producing yields near or above 225 Bu/A on corn. Beans can be a different matter in that soils too heavy can have drainage, nematode or high pH problems.

The goal of having soils analyzed by the Haney or RFLP method is that the new theory on soil fertility is that it is more a biological equation than a chemical one. The people that win yield contests nowadays recognize this and do what they can to boost those two scores. What I have seen is that the growers who fed livestock longer and manured their fields regularly from bedded facilities and didn’t use as much commercial fertilizer are finding their scores are often in the high teens and low 20s.

Guthrie Center yields

It is likely time to start looking at the yields and products tested at the Schwartz research farm near Guthrie Center. It is a very rough farm that when you get there you see a few acres down on flat ground north of the sheds where the small fertility plots are planted. Then you will see the hilly ground where the CSR scores of 31 to 45 might be too high. In both 2016 and 2017 the corn plants stayed green and filling until Oct 15th to 20th. That is about 40 to 45 days longer than neighboring fields. In 2016 the flat and slightly rolling ground produced yields ranging from 270 to 340. In 2017 the range was from 310 to 370 with peaks that were about 40 Bu/A higher. A few new items were included this year to coax the yields a bit higher.

The work is not done in a static scientific manner, where only one thing is changed. At Guthrie and in other such plots there are typically a minimum of three reps and checks, so the results have statistical relevance. Growers, if they were given a plan that worked well, would change or add several things in the same year. I will cover this more in the next columns. In 2017 we looked at: different N stabilizers; BioEmpruv, again and for sure; Take-Off liquid; and Calcium silicate. All three of those gave very favorable responses. We do know that having a double digit Haney score makes it all work. As far as why we view such work as critical, we are seeing that by doing a few new things, adding a few new products, or adding a step or two that add to the final bushels help give a positive ROI on the entire field whereas you see growers producing 200 or 220 Bu/A corn and still losing money. So that is the goal of the people conducting such work.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.

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